Monday, October 29, 2012

HPCX & the Hurricane that Wasn't

Hurricane Sandy & HPCX: A Love Story.

(not really)

I'm not going to tell you anything you don't already know about weather systems off the East Coast of the US right now. So I won't bother trying. Where we're at: As the week wore on it became abundantly clear from Al Roker & the Media Circus that there would be rain on Sunday. Or there wouldn't. They pretty much nail it with those kinds of predictions, which is why I guess it's easy to keep your job as long as you sound like you know what you're talking about. I don't know, didn't know, but now I do. There wasn't rain. But it was sort of almost chilly and there was a slight breeze coming off the lake near the race. Not exactly the epic conditions that the weather drones would have you believe, but not a sunny June morning either.

Fairly typical cross weather, I'd say.

It's nice to have the MAC series right in your backyard for this stop on the 8 race tour. For once, I didn't have to get a hotel the night before, or wake up at some absurd time and drive 2 hours to be there. The race was a mere hop down the NJ Turnpike, a small price to pay when some of the other races are in Baltimore, or Providence, or Mars, or what have you. Nice and close. I mean, relatively.

So naturally I spent the night in Pennsylvania.

When I woke up, it was chilly, then it was chilly and raining. Then it was chilly and pouring. So it goes. Bring on the mud. But as I drove over Jugtown Mountain, speeding down 78 to the East, the rain stopped, the skies...well, they stayed gray, and the ground was dry. Totally dry. Bonus, maybe it won't rain today? One can hope. As entertaining as it is to watch others race in the mud, it's not actually as awesome when you're in it. Maybe I'm soft.

Anyway, fast forward 4 hours and I'm lining up in the second row. I drew #910, which means that 5 people did not show up who are ahead of me in the standings. It also means that I still sort of have a shot at top 10 overall if I have a good race today. Those of you following at home know that I've set this top 10 thing as a goal of mine this year. Why? Dunno. Why not? Because it's something to aim for. A good race at HPCX means I have a fair shot at that goal. A bad race means I don't have to trek down to Maryland in 2 weeks. I think I'm ok with either of these at this point.

As we line up, I'm talking to the guys next to me. Eric (Kissena) introduces himself, and we talk out the majority of the line-up wait. He's a good sport, and answers my dumb questions in stride (do you mind if I clip in both feet and lean on you? etc). Chuck also introduces himself, and asks if I was the one who did the recap after Whirlybird for CX Magazine.

Look ma! I'm famous!

I know before the whistle blows I'm going to have a poor start to this race. So of course, the whistle blows and I have my best race start of the year. Up the hill, I'm sitting in a good place, maybe around 15th or so. Things shake out a bit and I'm sitting in 16th, feeling pretty good, not great, but pretty good. I like this course, all except for that climb part of it at the S/F. I'm sitting on wheels, finding a comfort zone, feeling solid and liking the course and how the day feels.

Feeling good that I might end up with one of my better races of the year here. Like. I like this.

So this is where we flashback to before the race...

...Eric has built me some wheels this week and shows with them on race day. Nice new stiff carbon wheels with the Clement PDXs on there. We throw the cassette on but find that it needs a spacer. A spacer? Really? What gives here? No big deal. We go with the new Clement on the front and stay with the Limus on the rear. It's a Franken-combo just like this Franken-storm we have coming up the coast, or down the coast, or out of the closet...

Everyone's got that, right?

Naturally, after 1 lap my rear tire starts to feel soft. Ok, it's ok, This is cross. THIS IS CROSS! We bottom out once in a while. Ok...maybe not this much. And boy these tires are washing out like crazy on the turns. Crap, the bike isn't going to work. Losing too much air. Maybe a lap goes by as the tire slowly bleeds out everything it has. Bumps are bumpier, and I start to come close to riding the rim. Turns are totally sketchy, and I feel like I'm on the verge of rolling the tire off at any second. Not good, this is not good.

So I come up to the barrier area where the team tent is setup and I start yelling "pit bike!"

Nothing. I'm looking at Utah and he has this look on his face like, "I see you saying something, but I have no idea what."

Pit bike!
Pit bike!
Pit bike!
Pit bike!
Pit bike!

Finally, I think Brad or Pearl or maybe Utah figures it out and Utah runs over to the pit. Unfortunately I am past the pit by the time he gets there, and I have to go another 1/3 of a lp before I get to the other side. This is where we coin the term "bleeding". 

Bleeding: Dropping from 16th to 22nd in 1/3 of a lap when riding on a mostly flat tire. However, I will say that we executed one of the cleanest pits in the history of MTBNJ, at least when not involving Fred and Ben. Well Fred riding, and Ben pitting. This was a solid pit, and I felt like we got this as right as we could. I get back on the bike and hear Mandi yell for me to get back up there. 

I try. I really do. As you can see, I'm in a No Man's Land here...

But it's hard, I'm sort of sitting in this purgatory where you can't gain on anyone and nobody can gain on you and you're starting to hurt but it still feels good and you're having fun but you want to try to get that guy but he's just out of reach and this hill leading up to the S/F is so damn steep and...

4 laps to go? Ugh. 

So we go 4 more laps. I try to ride at this point with no brakes most of the time. While this is undoubtedly fun, I almost eat it several times before I come to the conclusion that I need to be a little more selective in how I apply, or do not apply, my brakes. This is all well and good until I wind up finally washing out my front and landing in the dirt right before the barriers. Naturally this is where everyone is spectating, and everyone loves this, and yells at me. I get up and do my best to run it out through the barriers and up the hill.

At the top, Rich Bauch (Colavita) tells me I might not want to do that so often. I reply, "I'm here for your entertainment." Someone laughs somewhere. 

In the last lap I am trying to catch the guy in 21st and also hold off 2 of the guys behind me. I am giving it all I have, and I think I have it covered. Not sure if I can catch 21 but as I round the corner to the end of the race, I tap the brakes brake pads overshoot the brake track, get locked underneath it, and my bike promptly goes from 15 to 2 mph. I lightly pedal the bike, do more or less nothing, then say screw it and get off. I get passed by 3 more people.

I throw the bike on my shoulder and run the rest of the race. I cross the line, drop the bike, and stop right there. This isn't exactly how the race is supposed to go. But sometimes it does. I look up, and Kelly Cline is sitting there looking at me with that face, that one that sort of says, "Been there, at least you finished. What can you do?" I shrug my shoulders and mention something about the brake. As much as I want to throw the bike, it won't help. So I don't.

Overall, 25th. Given that I dropped 6 spots before the pit and 3 at the end, I'll take it. Not an ideal race but if you're going to have a mechanical, might as well line them all up in 1 day and get them out of the way. 

So...Fair Hill? I guess we'll see. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Providence 2 Day CX Festival, by Norm

Here I am, back for another cross recap. I won't be the first nor the last person to talk about the Providence weekend. But I may very well be the most mediocre, at least this week. Let me say, cross racing in the NJ series is fun and playful. The MAC is business. This like international politics, or more specifically, like 1980's Cold War Era politics. Hard, fast, and intense.

Ok, so that analogy isn't really very airtight. But I think you get what I'm saying. If they remake Red Dawn into a movie about cross races, this is where they'll be for field research. What I'm trying to say is this. This #^@% is real. No, I mean like for real.

Why go?

The short answer to this question is either "just because" or "why not?" The long answer to this question is because Eric & Allison invited me up, as they occasionally go to this race. And really I have no reason not to. Well, the driving, the tiring weekend, the expense...but you have to live a little, which is what this season is all about. Plus, once in a while it's nice to line up against national-level racers and see what you bring to the table.

As you'll soon see, in this metaphor I bring very little. Maybe like a napkin, or a pepper shaker, to the King's feast. Maybe I'm the meal.

So Friday night I pack up the car and start my journey to Providence. To be exact, we were going past Providence to the Cape, to our secret weekend hideout where Allison's family occasionally spends the summer weekends. I planned on talking about the wonderful phenomenon that is Connecticut traffic. But, you know, I'm not going to outline something that is already well-known, which is that 95 stinks. Traffic is a given, like dung heaps in a cow pasture.

Late Friday night, we get to our destination. A foreshadowing note: I have not had to pee in at least 6 hours. So I re-hydrate with 3 beers. This makes sense, right? I also have a PBJ sandwich right before bed. I'm a pro at this. Trust me.

Day 1

I wake up and this is what I see out the back window:

In the end, one could make an argument that I should have stayed right there. But I don't, and we are off to the races a bit after 7:00, which brings us to the venue at a very early 7:53, at which point Allison rushes out to do a pre-ride lap, as her race is at 10:00. I don't remember if I did a lap then or not. But in all, I do 4 laps, and sit on the trainer for a bit. See last week's recap for my thoughts on how exciting this is.

How do I feel today? Flat. Just like Baltimore day #1. These long drives seem to leave me wrung out, and spit to the curb. Not a great way to start a race against the toughest field I have ever done. I am lining up with guys who are competitive in the MAC UCI races. Why am I here? I...don't have a good answer to that question.

Recently we have been talking about race starts on the team forum, and I am generally of the opinion that how you feel that day more or less dictates how you will start. Feel good? You'll easily sit in the envelope and hit the first turn. Feel like crap? You'll hang on like some tin cans tied to the bumper of the El Camino after a low-rent wedding.

Today, I am the tin can. All I am missing in this pic is the string attaching me to the bumper. Witness:

This was a tough race for me. One can only be left to wonder why, but things are what they are. At one point, the guy numbered 509 (9th seed in the race) is in front of me and I am about to pass. He decides he has had enough, and pulls off the course. To use the word jealous here does not do justice to how much I wanted to follow him. Again, witness that wonderful picture above to get an idea.

The course has 4 things of note. The first is a flyover, which you can see here. That's Fat Marc at the top:

Marc races the MAC 35+ with me, and we often spend some of the race together. In general, it goes like this:

* Marc starts fast, I do not
* In about 3 laps, I start to reel him in for good
* I pass him and sometimes make it stick, depending how I feel

Today I made it stick, but barely. The other course features were a set of man-made barriers, a set of 2 steps that were possibly rideable (I ran them in day 1, rode in day 2), and some concrete steps. The course was a mix of many things, some fun flow, punchy climbs, and of course turns and grass and painful accelerations out of the corners.

In the end, I am almost lapped by the junior winner, who started a few minutes before us. I cross the line before him but they pull me anyway. This is all well & good, since everyone behind me got lapped and the last lap would have been some form of torture as devised at Guantanamo Bay. I am content to not add a gratuitous lap to my race to prolong my agony.

I finish 39th, but they do not officially score me for whatever reason. That's fine, since nobody needs to know how badly I did. We can just keep that between you & I, dear reader.

That night, we eat lots of wonderful food, have a few drinks, and I saw a small mini-pint of ice cream in half to enjoy with Allison. Eric was too busy checking to pay much mind to our ice cream needs. So he lost out.

Day 2

Day 2 always begs some tough questions like... I really want to get out of bed?
...where am I again?
...why do I do this to myself?
...wait, really, where am I?

...and so on. Sunday morning brings nothing new in this front. But I sleep in a little bit, then eat some apple pie for breakfast. I drop some Greek yogurt on top to give it the ice cream effect. It's good. I highly recommend pie for breakfast. This is cross after all, it totally goes. I decided to skip the beer for breakfast. Too Jim Morrison-ish.

Despite the dire forecast of cold, rain, mud, and general carnage, the day is crisp, clear, and beautiful.

I do feel better this morning. I don't know what that means, given the nature of these fields. Something I forgot to mention yesterday is this. The fields here are way stronger, but for some reason not nearly as deep. It's sort of like Battenkill in a way. People don't show up to race unless they belong, or have delusions that they think they belong. The top 50 guys are strong, then there are a few end-pack guys. But the usual pack fodder does not show, so you don't have the luxury of beating 50+ guys by default who don't belong. It's like every one of these guys is a seasoned cross racer.

Anyway, my start is better today, and I'm with the envelope fairly easily. I see Eric a few racers ahead, Marc, and...wait, who is this on the ground? Maurice? That's so odd. I pass him. So in consecutive weekends I have been ahead of both Roger Aspholm and Maurice. Odd, but I'll take it.

Like last week, he shortly passes me. And like last week, I try to stay on his wheel. I do a reasonable job for a while, but then...

My chain falls. This is kind of a mistake on my part. On the concrete steps I was in the small ring, and accidentally knocked it off on the run-up. This costs me 5 spots, and of course buckets of lost dignity as this is a crossing/observing spot. And given the road section is right here, I should have pre-shifted to the big ring to be ready for it. I won't call it a rookie mistake. But this is not something you should be doing in the 35+.

I felt good in this one. So then my chain fell off again, but this time got wedged between the chainring and frame. That was awesome. I'm pretty sure at least 618 people passed me here. I am frustrated now, but really there's not a lot I can do. I swear a few times, which does nothing. Eventually I get the chain out and back on, after swearing a few more times. I think swearing at bicycle parts, especially on a cross bike, is like playing classical music to your plants to help make them grow.

I then ride it out and try to catch a guy who I have already passed twice. Where is the justice in this? I don't manage to catch him, but we do sprint at the end of the race. I have to qualify the word "sprint" here, as what we were doing likely looked similar to the old people who walk the mall in the morning. I'm sure my average speed went down on the sprint. It was laughable.

Anyway, I finish 33rd, and actually get scored in this one. If I give myself a minute for the 2 dropped chains, that would get me to 20th, which is where I would have hoped to be. But I can't give myself a minute, so for the sake of making myself feel better, I'll say the dropped chain cost me 5 minutes, and I should have won the race.

Seems fair, no?

In the end, I never did get to meet Molly, which is a shame because I was looking forward to it. But it turns out that we went to the same college and grew up like 5 miles from each other, albeit 16 years apart, roughly. Small world, when it comes down to it. Though like some famous comic once said, I wouldn't want to paint it.